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Dr. Sanjoy Kumar Pal

Lucknow Meri Jaan

January 2000    

I came to Lucknow in January 2000; this was first visit to Lucknow after my 1994 health problems. Actually, my friend Durjoy Mazumdar from Kolkata was trying for his PhD, I suggested him to go to Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS).  I wrote a letter to Prof. Suraksha Aggarwal in the Medical Genetics department introducing my friend and informing about my present position. I was not sure how Prof. Suraksha will react to my letter as my earlier stay in SGPGI was brief and futile. However, she was good to my friend and inform me that I should come back to SGPGIMS and try for some position. So I visited SGPGIMS and met her. She was instrumental for my Postdoc admission to SGPGIMS in 1993. However, at present she was not having any position with her to accommodate me in her lab. She insisted that I should try in other National Institutes of Lucknow and/or write an independent project for funding. For that I need to stay in Lucknow for some days, so she introduced me to her student Uddalak Bharadwaj with whom I stayed in SGPGIMS campus. Uddalak was a very bright PhD student from Kolkata and took very good care of me. He and his girl friend Neeti virtually looked after everything that I wanted. Without their support my second innings in SGPGIMS would had not taken off.

I was very much interested to work on cancer genetics so Prof. Suraksha advised me to meet some clinician, as no one in her department was working on cancer. I knew Prof. G Choudhuri so I directly went to him for help. He was happy to see me after a long time. He was also pleased to know that I had recovered from my stomach ailment and was working on clinical cancer research. I told him about my experience in Kolkata, and that I wanted to work on alternative cancer therapies. After going through my research work he told me that in order to carry forward work on alternative cancer therapies, I should take up some conventional research work for my daily bread & butter. People will acknowledge my work only after I reach to an elevated academic position. I fully understood what he meant. Prof. Choudhuri informed that he too did not have any project, but his PhD student Mahendra was doing his PhD in gall bladder cancer (CaGB). After I got introduced to Mahendra, I understood that his research work was not going well due to lack of proper lab facility to do molecular biology work. As Prof. Choudhuri was a gastroenterologist, hence, he had limited idea about molecular genetic analysis. Moreover, Mahendra was the first PhD student of Prof. Choudhuri, so he also had no senior to guide him. I assured him that I will help him if I come back to SGPGIMS. I left Lucknow after about a week.   

I again returned back to Lucknow after 20-25 days, this time well prepared to stay for a longer time. Mahendra insisted that I should stay with him and help him with his PhD work, so I stayed in his room. Though his hostel room was little small for two, but somehow we managed. Our aim was common Mahendra was working on cancer and I wanted to work on genetic of cancer. Mahendra wanted me to also work on gall bladder cancer; he informed me that CaGB is a big menace in northern India. Mostly, ladies in forties succumb to this type of cancer. However, the exact cause or the genetics of this cancer is not well known. It would be a good idea if some research work could be taken in this direction. I liked this idea and started collecting literature for drafting a research proposal. However, we required a genetic lab for analysis of cancer tissue samples. The same facilities were not available in the gastroenterology department. So I again met Prof. Suraksha to know if I get the analysis work done in her lab. Because of many PhD students in her lab and other commitments she told me it would be a better idea if I can meet Prof. S S Aggarwal and Prof. Balraj Mittal.  I went and met Prof. S S Aggarwal, I work with him in 1993 – 94. At that time he was the Director of SGPGIMS. However, his interest was on haematological malignancies where as I wanted to work on solid cancers. So our ideas did not match.

Prof. Mittal was a very humble person and a very good molecular biologist. He migrated to USA after his PhD and was a green card holder. He liked my idea that I want to work on cancer. But the problem was that Prof. Mittal’s lab was engaged in research of inherited genetic disorders and was not oriented for work on cancer genetics. So I have to convince him first about what I am going to do. He also took keen interest to learn more about cancer genetics. After he was convinced that the work I wanted to do can be possible in his lab, he consented to go ahead. At that time I got information from one of my friends that ‘Lady Tata Memorial Trust,’ funds project for post-doc studies. So I started to draft a project on the molecular analysis of CaGB keeping Prof. Choudhuri & Prof. Mittal as my mentors. After I finished my project writing I again went back to Kharagpur.

I returned back after about a month as the advertisement of the ‘Lady Tata Memorial Trust,’ was published for the year 2000. My project was almost ready, only it required submission through SGPGIMS. I could complete the submission process within a week. Then, I requested Prof. Choudhuri if he can get me some temporary job so that I can stay in Lucknow. He discussed this issue with his friend Prof. Godbola (Head, Endocrinology), who informed him that one of his known Dr. D Kar Chowdhury in Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC) was looking for a post-doc fellow for his DBT funded project. I went and met Dr. Kar Chowdhury and soon got selected to work in his ‘Embryo Toxicology’ lab. It was a great leap for me, as I have again rejoined a National Institute after about a gap of six years after I left SGPGIMS in 1994.     

I stayed with Mahendra for few months and commuted to ITRC from SGPGIMS. Later, I rented a house in ‘South City’ a satellite township nearby SGPGIMS and brought my family. Life in ITRC was good and I was learning new things in toxicology studies, more importantly maintenance of Drosophilla stocks. I had two juniors in the project Amir Nazir and Indranil Mukhophadya, with them I had a good enjoyable time. In the mean time, after about 3 months I received my interview call from the ‘Lady Tata Memorial Trust’. So I visited Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai during the first week of July for the interview. Luckily, my cousin sister Tunudi & Jamaibabu was in Mumbai, so I could stay with them. My interview went well and I was confident that I will get the project funded. After returning from Mumbai, I was waiting for the award letter to arrive, which finally came after about a month and half. The happiest person was Mahendra, he was first to convey me this news. He was happy because from now on I will work along with him. 

I was facing a big problem without steady inflow of money every month. So after I completed one year, I switch over to an ICMR Funded project under Prof. G Choudhuri. This project was on Hepatitis C, my work as a postdoc fellow was primarily on clinical management of Hepatitis C patients. That demanded more work on the clinic / OPD rather than in lab.  Though, I was not new to clinics but working in SGPGIMS I resigned from ITRC and joined SGPGIMS in September 2000. As I was the first to start work on cancer genetics so I have to standardize all the protocols. So along with Mahendra I started to work in Prof. Mittal’s lab. First, we got all the required chemicals then we standardized the testing procedures. This took us a considerable amount of time. Anyway, when things were standardized we need samples. The greatest problem we faced now. There were not many tissue samples available for us. CaGB is usually detected at a very late stage when surgery is not possible. Hence, getting tissue samples were difficult. Next we tried our luck from preserved tissues kept in our histopathology department. But, the results were not satisfactory. In the mean time 6 months were over and I have to send my progress report. I compiled all the results that I got so far and submitted the same. However, it took almost another 3 months for the ok report to arrive along with my fellowship money. The biggest problem with the Lady Tata Memorial Fellowship was that it took a considerable time to come. As I was now having family clinics was totally different. Follow up of old patients and registration of new patient for treatment was done on Tuesday. Rest days of the week I was relatively free. Gradually, my association with lab research become less, however, Mahendra’s research work was now quite stream lined and his PhD. was now back on track by the proper research guidance of Prof. Mittal

However, my first interest still remained to work on alternative cancer therapy. So I kept interacting with cancer patients who came to SGPGIMS for treatment. From them I came to know about an alternative cancer therapy ‘HUMA’. From the internet I could get more details about this therapy. Dr. Hina Fatima was the secretary of the ‘Huma Cancer Society,’ Lucknow. I decided to meet her and know more about the therapy. In the mean time I wrote an article on my experience of alternative cancer therapy in Kolkata, it was considered for publication in prestigious medical journal ‘The Lancet Oncology’. It was a great boost for me, as alternative cancer therapy was now receiving proper scientific attention.

When I met Dr. Hina, contrary to my expected of an orthodox muslim lady, she was a convent educated girl. She could explain me in length about the herbal cancer therapy discovered by her father. I was quite impressed by her and decided to join her and do some follow up study of few patients treated with her medicines. As my work pressure in SGPGIMS was not much and full support of Prof. Choudhuri was with me, I could devote a considerable amount of time in the Huma Cancer Society. Like in Kolkata, I started to gather objective evidence on the response of this alternative cancer therapy to cancer. Over the period of 2-3 years I could gather enough evidence to support that this alternative cancer therapy ‘HUMA’ had good anti-cancer response in some oral & gastrointestinal tract cancer patients.  I sent a compilation of 20 case reports to the Office of the Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) / National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, USA for the Best Case Series Presentation. Following which the OCCAM invited us to present a poster in National Institute of Health, USA in 2007. Dr. Hina and I have attend many national & international conferences and presented our findings on this alternative cancer therapy HUMA within a span of 2002 - 06.

The Hepatitis C project was about to complete in 2004, so I wrote a projected entitled: ‘Popularity, effectiveness and adverse effects of various complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) tried by patients with advanced gastrointestinal tract malignancy in north India.’ The project got funded from the Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi. So from December 2005 I was working on my own project. However, in July 2006 I was offered a Lecturer position in Sardar Bhagwan Singh Postgraduate Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Dehradun. So my second innings in Lucknow ended. However, this time I left Lucknow contented and pleased as I was able to make a mark among my peers that I could not do in my previous attempt.

Memories of Lucknow